Alysa jumped out of her car as people gathered on the streets, gawking at the wall of flames rising from where the Iseda Community Center stood. The buildings nearby were also on fire and badly damaged from the explosion and it seemed as if the fire might spread through the entire block. “Mom!,” she screamed hysterically, “Mom!” She looked around franticly for any signs of her mother or perhaps Papa Torres or the children. As she approached what was left of the building, a person on the street tried to pull her away, “Don’t go in there!”, but she jerked her arm away and raced toward the inferno. Tears welled up in her eyes and in her mind, she tried her best to convince herself her mother wasn’t in the building. She raised one hand toward the flames and began making circular motions, feeling the heat from the fire and slowly taking command. Her mind was a flood of emotions but she had to focus her magic as much as possible. Soon, the flamers began rolling away, pulling back to reveal a mound of twisted steel and broken concrete. She began sobbing and with her concentration broken, the flames returned to their place as if sealing the fate of the people inside. She fell to her knees in the middle of the street and broke down; in the distance, sirens approached.
Hours later, firefighters put out the flames while police officers secured the area. Alysa sat in the back of an ambulance with a blanket around her shoulders, her eyes staring blankly at the cup of coffee in her hands which shivered, sending ripples along the surface of the coffee. A bald man with sunglasses and a long trench coat came up to her, flanked by two men in suits. “Alysa Saraki?,” he asked. Alysa couldn’t speak as she was both mentally and emotionally drained but merely raised her head and nodded. “I’m Agent Johns with the FBI,” he showed her his badge before shoving it back in his coat, “I know this is a troubling time right now but we need to ask you a few questions. Unfortunately, it’s not safe here and we’ll need to escort away from here. We’ll let you make a few phone calls and arrangements after it’s all over, okay?” Alysa nodded, got up and meekly followed Johns to a car parked nearby.
“I can take her,” a familiar voice came from behind and when she turned, she saw Farrell Creed.
“And who are you?,” Johns asked.
“Farrell Creed. I worked with this girl’s mother,” Alysa instinctively shrank away from him, “I’d like to take her with me,” this thought horrified her but she was not able to speak up at the moment. What was he doing here? Why would he care?
One of the agents whispered into Johns’ ear and he nodded, then turned to Creed, “We might need to ask you some questions as well. Can you come with us? It will only be a few minutes then we’ll let the two of you go wherever you need.”
Creed motioned toward his motorcycle parked at the curb, “How `bout I just follow you on my bike?,” he then looked back at Alysa, “She can ride with me.”
Alysa shuddered but was still unable to speak for herself. What she really wanted was to go home. Nothing made sense. It was a dream.
“It will only take a minute,” Johns told him.
“I’d hate for you boys to have to drive me all the way back here to pick up my bike. And besides, I think she’d feel more comfortable with me… I’m a friend of the family.”
Johns seemed slightly concerned but agreed, “Okay, but follow us closely. We don’t want to lose either one of you.”
Creed clutched her shoulder and guided her to his bike. His grip, although not purposefully tight, conveyed a monstrous level of strength which was part of why Alysa was always so intimidated by him. He climbed on his motorcycle first and she sat behind him on the bucket seat, holding on to the back of the bike, but making sure not to touch him. The engine roared and they sped off, following Johns’ car. Alysa didn’t look back at the wreckage behind them. As Johns’ car turned onto a main road, she could feel Creed’s bike slowing down. He was not braking but it was obvious he wasn’t accelerating. They were in the right lane and Creed allowed a car to pass him on the left and gave enough room for the car to position itself between him and Johns’ vehicle. She began to remember Papa Torres’ words about being smart and prepared for enemies. She never trusted Creed despite working with her mother and she couldn’t understand why he would show up or how he knew about the attack. She struggled to overcome her panic and think about her next move. No cars were coming on the other side of the street and suddenly, Creed jerked his bike across three lanes and straight into an alley.
“No, they’re back there,” Alysa shouted as they went down the alley. Creed said nothing as he slowed his bike down. In front of them was a chain link fence, blocking the exit. “Just stay here,” he muttered and parked his bike, then turned back and faced the alley entrance. Alysa tried to sprint down the alley, but a strong hand pulled her back.
“No!,” she shouted, “No, no, no no…!”
“Stay put. Listen to me!,” Creed growled as he pulled her back.
“Help me!,” Alysa let out one scream before he placed a hand over her mouth.
She began to kick his shins, slam her head into his throat, claw at his hand, and slam her other fist into his crotch. Nothing worked. He wasn’t letting go and she was having difficulty focusing on any magic. They stopped struggling when they heard tires screeching toward the alley. Johns’ car peeled around the corner and stopped at the entrance.
“Whatever they told you was bullshit,” Creed let Alysa go. She stepped back as the driver revved his engine and accelerated forward, ready to run them both down. Creed said nothing and sprinted toward the car. Mean while, the car drove forward with clear intent She was surprised that a large man could run that fast and even more surprised to see how high he could leap. Creed flung himself into the air, covering his face as he sailed over the hood and smashed into the windshield of the car which caved in immediately. The impact took out the driver and the man in the passenger seat in a storm of glass and flailing limbs. The car swerved to the side and slammed into the wall, finally coming to a stop as Alysa could see frantic movement inside. A moment later, the rear passenger door opened and Johns fell out with a bloody cut on his head. He looked up at Alysa and she could see how cold his eyes were now that he had lost his sunglasses. He reached into his coat and pulled a gun just as a hand emerged from the backseat, grabbed him by the back of his collar and yanked him head back into the car. Another hand slammed the door on his temples, rendering him unconscious. Johns dropped the gun and slumped down on the alley floor; Creed soon emerged with glass in his long hair and beard and multiple cuts across his face.
“You okay?,” he asked.
“Don’t come near me,” she shrieked.
“Dammit, we don’t got time for this!”
“I said get away!”
A gust of strong wind blew past Creed, blowing his hair and leather jacket back. He froze with a confused look on his face as the wind died down almost as soon as it began. Alysa said nothing and ran past him. “Get back here!,” Creed called after her but she continued to run, tears streaming down her face. Creed raced after her and once he cleared the alley, he found several pedestrians who had arrived due to all the commotion. “Oh my God, call the police!,” he heard a voice shout. “Stop that guy!,” someone else called out. He tried to look past the crowd but lost sight of Alysa. It didn’t help that people were now crowding him and at any moment, Johns and his men would wake up. He backtracked down the alley, got on his bike and the pedestrians scattered as he exited.
Hours earlier, he had arrived at the home of the dead teenage boy he was hired to look for. It was a farmhouse a mile outside Winghaven. He was prepared to tell worried parents about the death of their son and his friends but once he arrived at the house, he found a police officer exiting the premises. It was odd that there were no squad cars on the road or in the driveway.
“Can I help you?.” the officer asked.
“Uh, yeah, I’m a PI. Folks here hired me to find their son.”
“I just stopped by to ask a few questions, myself. I’m afraid they’re not home.”
Creed noticed the officer didn’t have a sidearm holstered to his belt but didn’t draw attention to it, “I’ll just hang around and wait `til they get back,” He nonchalantly made his way to the porch.
“Well, have a good day,” the officer quickly turned and walked away.
Creed curiously watched him walk across the property before he disappeared behind a barn, then began picking the lock to the front door. He entered the living room but didn’t see any signs of a struggle. Pulling his gun from his jacket, he made his way through the kitchen and eventually went up the stairs where he checked the bedrooms before coming to the bathroom. It was there that he found the bodies of the two parents. They were both in the bathtub naked with their wrists slit open and bloody knives on the floor by their dangling hands, indicating suicides. Creed already had suspicions about the police officer and they seemed to be correct. He had to call the other parents to warn them. He turned away from the tub just in time to see the fake officer charge into the room with another knife. Creed caught his wrist as the blade came an inch from going into his chest, then used his free hand to slam the butt of his gun against his forehead.
When the officer woke up, he found himself tied to a chair in the garage with Creed rummaging around the tool bench. “You awake? Good,” Creed looked over his shoulder and continued to look through the tools in front of him, “Give me a sec. Be right with ya,” he produced a power drill and gave it a quick test, “This’ll do.”
“I’m not scared. I know you’re the one who found our house,” the officer smiled, “We know all about you, …Farrell Creed.”
“Then you’ll know I’ve met your kind before. Iconoclasts, right? Now, I’m thinking you killed the folks who lived here and made it look like a suicide so there wouldn’t be anymore people asking about the missing kids. Am I correct in guessing that the parents of the other kids met the same fate?”
“Their fates were already sealed when they abandoned True Nature and relied on manmade luxuries.”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Creed fired up the drill and shoved it into the Iconoclast’s knee, eliciting a spray of blood and a quick scream before Creed shoved a rag in his mouth to muffle any further sound. “Three kids and their parents? Why did they have to die? Yeah, I saw the old house. The constellations drawn in blood? I know it was the Iseda Zodiac. Now, the Reformers use it for rituals but I know they don’t kill people and start drawing with their blood. When it comes to your people, I don’t know as much. What was it for?,” Creed removed the rag.
“It… doesn’t matter,” the man gasped in pain, “It’s… already…. been done.”
“I’m gonna shove this drill through the other knee if you don’t give me a real answer.”
“The heretics…,” the man muttered as his body went into shock from the pain and blood loss, “… will be cleansed from this world… all of them.”
“Heretics. So you’re going after the Reformers?”
“I… told you… it’s already… been done.”
“What do you mean? What’s already been done?”
“Why don’t you ask your friend… Ella Saraki?”
A shiver ran down Creed’s spine. He quickly turned and left the man in the garage and rushed to the Iseda Community Center to warn them. By the time he got back to town, he knew he was already too late by the sight of black smoke rising and the sounds of sirens in the distance. He always knew Alysa didn’t trust him. He had the sort of personality and appearance that intimidated people. There was no doubt Alysa was in danger. Johns and his men were just the beginning.